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April 16, 2014

Fouts offers ‘good news’ budget for coming year

By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer

WARREN — Mayor Jim Fouts said he’s never been able to present a budget like the one he delivered to the City Council April 8. He said no mayor has in the city’s history.

His proposed spending plan for the 2014-15 fiscal year totals $158,371,724 and includes a shade over $100 million for the general fund. Fouts said there’s no requested tax increase, that all services are safe from the chopping block and that the city has banked a whopping $52.3 million in its “rainy day” fund.

He credited Warren voters, members of the City Council and his administration for making it happen. And while he refuted the notion of scaling back a trio of voter-approved tax increases that bolstered funding for roads, libraries and public safety in recent years, Fouts said he couldn’t envision ever having to go to the voters for a tax increase again.

“Without the three millages, we wouldn’t have the money to invest in the future of Warren,” Fouts told the Warren Weekly April 10. “Now, we will be able to do something more than worry about the fiscal year. We can look to the future, and the future looks good, as long as we can wisely spend the money we’ve been able to save.”

Fouts said picking at the city’s cash reserves like “hanging fruit” would be fiscally irresponsible. Instead, he said the money should be used to satisfy long-standing encumbrances that include contractual comp and sick time obligations to employees, and expensive infrastructure improvements.

He also pledged to use some of the money to maintain the current level of public safety manpower that includes 18 firefighters hired through a federal grant that will expire in 2015, if it is not renewed.

Other planned expenditures include $7.1 million for residential streets and $10 million for major roads, and the purchase of one EMS transport truck, a garbage truck and a total of seven new vehicles for the Department of Public Works.

The city will expand the Busch Branch Library on Ryan between Nine Mile Road and Stephens, and renovate the Burnette Branch on Van Dyke south of Nine Mile.

Fouts said Warren would also continue its efforts to tie in with the Oakland Macomb Interceptor, a plan that would alleviate the potential for basement flooding and save residents the resulting problems, but would come with massive price tag.

“The bottom line is that Warren is a well-run city and it’s meeting the needs of its residents, as long as that fund balance is not taken away,” Fouts said. “Every City Council and every mayor has ignored those long-term needs. Now, we can take care of those long-term needs.”

Warren City Council Secretary Scott Stevens, the council’s top vote-getter in the 2011 race for one of two at-large seats, said the city is in “very good shape,” but that he favors some form of tax relief for residents.

“If we reduce the mills that we charge the residents, as long as it’s a calculated amount, it will not affect our bond rating at all,” Stevens said. “I believe in saving money, don’t get me wrong, and putting money away for a rainy day, but I think we’re taxing people too much.”

Stevens said he would favor a reduction of about 2.0 mills from the city’s current millage assessment of 27.8656.

He estimated the city’s available cash reserves to be closer to $25 million; an amount not including funds already earmarked for outstanding obligations.

Stevens added that the city was “prudent and right” to balance the budget with cash from the rainy day fund in the past, and that the decision, coupled with “a lot of cost cutting,” helped the city add $7 million to the fund balance over the last four years.

He said he hadn’t had a chance to fully review the mayor’s budget by press time because it wasn’t presented to the council until after Fouts made his presentation April 8.

The Warren City Council was scheduled to meet during the day April 12, after press time, with representatives of most city departments. Meetings with the 37th District Court’s administration and representatives of the city’s boards and commissions were scheduled for the evening of April 14.

By law, the city must adopt a balanced budget by the time the fiscal year ends on June 30.

The City Council will hold a public hearing on the mayor’s proposed budget at their next meeting, scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. April 22 in the auditorium of the Warren Community Center at 5460 Arden.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Brian Louwers at brianlouwers@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1089.